U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Israel that its plan to increase construction in the West Bank town of Maale Adumim was "at odds with American policy."
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Rice said the Israeli plans to add 3,500 housing units to the Maale Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem were "not really a satisfactory response."
This marks the first time Rice relates to reports regarding plans to build in Maale Adumim, as the U.S. government has expressed its staunch opposition to such plans mainly via U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer.
The U.S. State Department said Thursday U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz that Israel is obligated not to expand West Bank settlements in accordance with the U.S.- backed road map for peace.
The Israeli government said in response the authorization of the construction plan for Maale Adumim may take years and therefore would not affect the current diplomatic process.
American officials estimate Sharon made the Maale Adumim construction plan public as a display of the government’s commitment to the large settlement blocs in order ease pressure applied on him from the right.
However, the Americans are fearful such acts may obstruct the diplomatic process.
Rice said that despite the advancement in the diplomatic process, it remains at a “fragile” phase and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas needs outside help to reform the government and bring its security services under control.
She said the United States expects Israel "to be careful about anything" - including settlements, new laws or the route of a barrier being built to separate Israelis from Palestinians - that could affect the outcome of peace negotiations.
"It's concerning that this is where it is, and around Jerusalem," Rice said of the Maale Adumim settlement. "We will continue to note that this is at odds with American policy."
On other world issues, Rice told The Los Angeles Times that cooperation between the United States and Europe had boosted efforts to force Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment program.
But she said Tehran had yet to take "some very clear steps" to end suspicions that it was seeking nuclear weapons.
Rice also said Washington wants all countries without nuclear weapons, including Iran, to give up their rights under the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich or reprocess uranium for peaceful purposes, arguing that such activity poses too great a risk for proliferation.
Speaking of Iran's pledge to temporarily suspend its enrichment effort, she said: "It is better than nothing to have a freeze, obviously."
"But the real goal here has to be that the Iranians make a choice that they are not going to engage in activities that heighten suspicion that they're trying to get a nuclear weapon under cover of a civilian nuclear program," Rice said.